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The graduate students of the Department of Classics at The Graduate Center at CUNY are happy to share the call for papers for our Spring 2022 14th annual Graduate Conference, entitled ‘Secret Knowledge in the Ancient World: Acquisition and Concealment.’ The conference will be held via Zoom on Friday, May 6, 2022.

We are pleased to announce our keynote speaker, Prof. Radcliffe G. Edmonds III (Bryn Mawr College).

The possession of knowledge is the possession of power. To hoard that knowledge or to deliberately disseminate information that one knows to be false is to further concentrate this power. Secret knowledge is thus a valuable commodity, cultivated and guarded by members of exclusive societies, holders of religious arcana, politicians, and more. The seeming scarcity of information reinforces a social inequality in which conspiracy theories, attempting to correct social imbalances, have found fertile ground in both the ancient and modern world. It is unsurprising that much of what was considered secret knowledge in the ancient world remains unknown to us. Yet, partially because of the allure of their concealment, these loci of secrecy have endured as rich sources for classical reception. As it is, secret knowledge appears to be a rich topic through which significant insights and revelations about the ancient world might be discovered.

The political potency of secret knowledge was evident in the ancient world. Famously, Publius Clodius Pulcher breached the 62 BCE rites of Bona Dea, a Roman women’s mystery cult hosted by Pompeia-- the wife of Julius Caesar. Not only did Clodius’ action create a religious scandal through his witness to what was verboten, but also his trial notoriously led to intense and protracted secret, although hardly hidden, political negotiations. In the end, Caesar divorced his wife to avoid any possible adulteration of his new office of Pontifex Maximus with the profanation of the mysteries; Clodius was acquitted. Even now, we see rampant distrust of political engines and the insider information they mask, culminating in such actions as the January 2021 riots at the U.S. capital. But a major question abides: is the secret knowledge even true? Does the truth even matter, or is the power actually in its possession?

Possible topics may include but are not limited to:

• Conspiracy theories in the ancient world

• Fake news, then and now

• Ancient mystery cults

• Ancient oracles: interpretations and consequences, ancient and modern

• Reception studies

• Ancient philosophy as a form of exclusive knowledge (e.g., Pythagoreans)

• Women’s secret knowledge and its function in ancient societies

• Secret words and their implications

• Liminality

• Language of lies in ancient literature and the various interpretations it may produce

• Ancient science and medicine as a source of exclusive power

The goal of this conference is to provide a professional stage for doctoral students and young scholars, where discussions, interactions and possible collaborations between students of the ancient world can take place.

We welcome papers from a variety of disciplines, and approach the ancient Mediterranean world broadly, beginning in the second millennium BCE and ending with the fall of the Roman Empire at the end of the third century CE. Graduate students from departments other than Classics, such as Literature, History, Philosophy, Art History, Political Science, and Gender studies are more than welcome to apply.

Please send abstracts of up to 300 words for a 20 minutes presentation to in .pdf format, no later than 01/31/2022. Decisions will be made anonymously; please send personal details, such as your name and affiliation, in the body text of your email.

Notifications to all applicants will be given by early March, 2022.

If you have any questions regarding the conference, please send them to the coorganizers, Victoria Hsu, Patricia Hatcher, and Keren Freidenreich at the same email address.